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How to Make Your Child (Really) Listen to You

“Play time’s over! It’s time to put away the toys, ok?” you asked your toddler. But they were not having it, and continued playing as if they did not hear you. “Can you put the toys back in the box?”, you tried again, your patience waning. And what you got is radio silence. So, you ask again for the third time…


You’d hoped the tone of voice would help but instead, they just kept ignoring you as if you had not just said anything. If you have dealt with a toddler not listening to you, you would know what I’m talking about, and it’s challenging even for the most patient parent. You find yourself falling into this perpetual cycle from asking calmly to screaming demands and you wonder what will it take to get them to listen.

But here’s the thing though, if you want to get a handle of your child’s unresponsiveness, you have to get to the root of it – WHY are they not listening?

Children of all ages have a hardwired need for power. When they don’t get to exert their power in positive ways like choosing what to wear to school, what games to play, what to eat, etc. – they will exert their power in negative ways. Because they have control over their body and language, that’s how children assert their power – by choosing NOT to listen.

Remember, don’t lump every communication shutdown as them ‘not listening’, try to dig in and truly understand what’s really going on, and then you can figure out how to address it.

But, if yours is truly the classic case of not listening, here are ways you can make your child listen to you.

Get on their level
If you want to get your child’s attention – you have to give them your attention too. Get down on their level and look them in the eyes and you will not only verify that they see and hear you, but also strengthen the communications as well. Proximity is key – so stop whatever you’re doing, and take a minute to speak to them.

Less Nos, more Yeses
Let’s think about it for a minute, out of 10,000 requests from your child daily, you say “No” to most of them. “No, not now”, “Not today”, “No”, “Nope”, “Nada”.

So if your answer to their requests is always “no”, it’s no wonder they stop listening to yours! Try to look for reasons to say “yes” more often.

Instead of “No, we can’t go to the playground”, try “That sounds cool, should we go in the morning this weekend?”

Instead of “No, you can’t have ice cream”, try “Ice cream is your favourite! Do you want to have it for dessert tomorrow?”

Say thank you, but in advance
If you want to help your child make appropriate choices, try preemptive “Thank you for putting your toys away after you’re done playing” instead of “I better not see your toys all over the floor”. This will encourage them towards good behaviour more often.

By letting them know in advance, that you trust them to do the right thing will increase the likelihood of the task being completed.

Break it into steps
Toddlers take time to process our requests, especially when we have too many of them. So let’s look at our request and break it into manageable steps. Rather than saying “Let’s tidy the room”, give one step at a time, “Let’s start with the legos”.

Remember, if your child is not listening to you, maybe it’s a wakeup call. While it might seem like defiance on their part, it is actually more likely a way to get our attention.

Kids have a need to be heard and seen, so when this need isn’t met, they will stop listening to us entirely. Yes, it may sound counterintuitive, but clearly it works since it’s one of the top complaints parents share!